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From Larissa ~ Although this was my first trip to Edinburgh, I felt as though I already knew the place. I had visited the city many times “virtually,” through reading. I am a fan of the 44 Scotland Street novels by Alexander McCall Smith. The author chronicles the fictitious, but very realistic, goings-on of a group of residents in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Note: the “New Town” was built in the late 18th & early 19th centuries, history runs deep in Edinburgh.)
I spent an afternoon exploring the New Town in search of some of the locations referenced in the books. The center of all this activity is the eponymous 44 Scotland Street, an unreal address on a very real street. It is a Georgian-era townhouse apartment building; the type that boasts high ceilings, a spiral staircase and questionable plumbing.
Several colorful residents weave their way through the books along with friends, relatives and other assorted hangers-on. Readers of the series (which now has seven installments) become friends with the characters, including: Domenica, the anthropologist who wants to study modern-day pirates in Malaysia; Cyril the beer-drinking dog, owned by Angus the portrait-painter; Big Lou, a no-nonsense gal from further up north who owns a café and dishes out great advice to everyone but herself; and Matthew, the totally inept gallery owner with a heart of gold.
Most endearing, however, is Bertie, the young boy with the mother-from-hell. Bertie just wants to be a kid, but his mother has him speaking Italian, studying the saxophone and attending a bizarre progressive school with kids named Tofu and Hiawatha.
The main character in the books is Edinburgh itself. Throughout the series Bertie et. al. frequent neighborhood haunts and city landmarks. Reading the 44 Scotland Street novels transports the reader to the streets of Edinburgh, making them a virtual neighbor.
I found several of the places I had come to know and love:
- Scotland Street: a quiet wide residential street on a hill that slopes down toward the river Fife in the distance. There’s no number 44, but you can get a sense of the neighborhood, with the large granite Georgian Townhouses and imposing front doors. I could almost hear Bertie practicing his saxophone.
- The Cumberland Bar: (Pictured at the top of this post.) A real bar a few blocks away that is tucked into an otherwise residential street. Angus the portrait painter is a regular here, and this is where his dog Cyril (did I mention he has a gold tooth?) has his very own “beer bowl”.
- The Scottish Gallery: Located at number 16 Dundas Street, which is the proxy for Matthew’s fictitious Something Special Gallery. The spot where art snobs are unmasked and romance blossoms.
- Big Lou’s: Fictitious café across from Matthew’s gallery, home of a spectacular cappuccino machine that Lou is always polishing. It’s the center of all neighborhood gossip that doesn’t occur at the Cumberland Bar.
- Valvona & Crolla: Edinburgh’s oldest, and probably best, Italian deli. This is where locals go for fresh mozzarella, espresso, and extra-virgin olive oil. Perhaps the only benefit for Bertie of learning Italian—he absolutely craves the Panforte di Siena.
Photo courtesy LeilAppetit.com
I loved touring around these sites, as it took me into the heart of a neighborhood that was right in Edinburgh, yet far off the tourist trail. It was wonderful to see the places mentioned in the books, bringing the characters to life for me. While in Edinburgh, 44 Scotland Street became my new home address.
Click the link for more information about the 44 Scotland Street novels on Amazon.
Note: My camera punked out on me that day so most of these pictures are courtesy of My Weekly Book, a person who is reading a book a week for a year.
What books have made you want to visit a place?